Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Art of Living Alone

Alone versus Lonely has come to my attention lately when I read that more women are living alone today than at any other time in herstory. 

Given that therapists in the USA are a little concerned about the emotional health of these millions of women, it piqued my interest.  On googling this topic it seems there are many variables when it comes to how people feel about living alone.  As I'm a passionate informal researcher (post Social Ecology academia) of our 3rd chapter, I will continue to gather stories, and the next 20 years will no doubt attract much interest from other social researchers.
To give you a glimpse of the growing singledom status, let's look at the USA for example. 
  • 1/4 of adult American women have never married
  • Divorce has tripled since the 1950's
  • Nearly 12 million women are widows
  • 51% of women live without spouses
The number of single person households and life alone has been gathering public health attention especially in relation to possible long term emotional health consequences. And studies in the UK revealed that loneliness is in epidemic proportions across the lifespan. So it appears its not just we older folk.  I'm sensing though that one's economic situation has much to do with one's emotional health at any age, whilst living alone.
image: dearielovie

So what does it take to live artfully alone? Without feeling the pangs of loneliness.

Most would agree that having a sense of purpose, feeling connected to others or one's community, feeling resilient and vital, having a sense of adventure, a faith to fall back on, and a feeling of Joy about life, are important ingredients when living alone.

On the occasions I've felt lonely during my single life of 25 years, I've learned to not deny these feelings, and to dive in deeper with them. Thankfully, as I've aged I've become more accepting of my solitude, and view it as a space to follow some long-held dreams or interests.  Lately its painting!! 

Could the stories we grew up with, the "get married, live happily ever after" ones, continue to impact us across the lifespan, and how we view our single lives?  Since my research and listening to Bella, I think so. There seems to be a culturally induced fear of being alone, and the pressures of how a woman should be. Bella, who is 63, has been single her whole life, and is an academic studying the single life. She says the "happily ever after" story was not her story, and has made it her life's work to find true stories of single life. Bella's video brought me back to myself somewhat. 

I also resonated with her view that the good life is not just about finding love, but much more.  It's about finding meaning, autonomy and achieving mastery... and having children and a family if one desires.  In retrospect, I've only been able to grow, to follow my dreams, and to finish University studies, post marriage. I always felt held back by partners.  Often when coupled, we lose a sense of ourselves having invested much of our energy into the other.  Florence Falk shares how she mentors women to discover their deepest longings and connection to self.

However, if these happily ever after fairytale stories are still playing out unconsciously, self doubt and shame could be hiding. It's possible that many women lack awareness of this shame - of being single, of it being a personal failure of the loss of a marriage or partner.  Or if we were more successful, we wouldn't be alone?   

There are, of course, huge differences in women and their needs. Some are introverts and are comfortable living alone. For me , though I need solitude and re-energising periods, I'm an extrovert and love connecting with others usually on a daily basis. Being out in the world, involved and sharing myself, is essential to my wellbeing and soul. And many rejoice at finally only having to look after themselves.  I've heard this often! Remember Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 in the Get Smart TV series? She's now 83 and shares how living alone became one of the most enriching and joyous period of her life, and her secrets for loving it.  

This post is mostly for we elders, but a post by a younger woman, Alethia  and her peers who are loving their single lifestyles, paints a different story. I wonder...if they're still single when they reach 50 or 60, without having partnered up, or had children, might they feel the same?   Only time will tell.

Further into my research, I googled 'single grey nomad' and was stunned to find so many websites supporting the single travelling life!  So I guess many women have let go of the romantic myth of finding a partner, riding off into the sunset as a coupled grey nomad, but are living their own dream!  


One of my friends, Rafaela, in 2014 then around 55, did just that. She travelled from the Blue Mountains to South Australia, then up to Uluru, across to Queensland and her final destination was the Northern Rivers.  
I think she is still tripping about!

I hope the following links where women are nomad-ing alone, inspire some of you to get up and get going!